unreliable organs cause girl to do extra chores February 2, 2011
Wintered hands, icy water buckets, horse blankets. Sweat freezes along my forehead, the horses get excited. Feed them, feed them again. Repeat. Wrestle with hay bales, tiny slivers in my arms. Climb manure pile, trek towards the basement door. Back inside, I feel too hot. The layers won’t come off fast enough and there are parts of me still numb. Rotate out wet hats, rotate in dry hats. Socks. Apply primary leg layer, follow up with snowpants. Long shirt short shirt other shirt. Vest, jacket, zip, zip. Rotate out wet boots, rotate in dry boots, and gloves, and repeat several times each day until spring. I grew up doing my share of barn chores, but it’s different this year and the burden falls entirely to me. Usually I have the other half of the farm, my father, to assist and together we muddle through, but all things routine and comfortable went inside out on December 23. My dad’s heart failed us. It was slow, suffering, haunting. He was immersed in his pride-or maybe fear, and tried to will it away. In the evening I found my mother tending to him, she had come home from work, she was putting blankets on him, they were praying. He was still wearing his shoes and I asked “Is dad ok?” He groaned, “I’ll be fine”. This level of denial is something my family resorts to if it’s very, very bad. I spent the evening trying to tune out sounds coming from my father. Gasping, sucking, anything for air. That sound came over and over, followed by gurgling, then moaning, then quiet. Too difficult to struggle. With that symptom, he asked for an ambulance, which arrived exactly at midnight. My mom punched at my door, yelled for me, and then I could hear her voice moving quickly away. That meant she was frantic. I had heard it before. Emerging, frightened, I noticed they had dressed in coats already, and my dad was panting. I stayed back. Someone needed to watch the dogs and horses, and my dad was specifically concerned with it as he was leaving. I didn’t know what to think about that. I felt a new sadness, something far beyond any other, I might have just seen my father for the last time. I tried to delete those images of him suffering. While I cried alone in our big house, the doctors were reviving my father with paddles. His body probably lurching on a plastic table under a fluorescent light. A disgusting image. I got him back. He didn’t die, he was going to but he didn’t, and those days were dotted by nurses and hospital rooms and the smell of unwashed sick people. We learned of other serious ailments and my mother called doctors many many times. Our tall Christmas tree, half decorated, began to lose it’s needles. My mother sawed it into pieces right there in the living room. She seemed relieved as she dragged it outside to burn. Home alone with my mother, I made an effort to keep her company. She only broke down once, and I had to embrace her. It was very stiff, unpracticed. Then she was angry, too much gin, and we spatted about money. Rotate out wet hats, rotate in dry hats. Socks. Apply primary leg layer, follow up with snowpants. Long shirt short shirt other shirt.Vest, jacket, zip, zip. Rotate out wet boots, rotate in dry boots, and gloves, and repeat several times each day until spring. Feed them, feed them again, repeat, and care for Father.
Venturing out into the gray, the usual curious wondering in the forest, the usual chill, wet feet. I had a habit of following just one path, day after day, finding nothing but snapped branches and my own footprints. I did once encounter a muskrat, but it quickly vanished. Another time I found an enormous dead crayfish. Time spent searching, wasted on a slippery marmot and a dead thing. I wanted to know what went on. My longing to be liked by creatures, to be the exception to their doubts led me off one day into uncertain woodland. A mess of thorny vines caught my pant leg as I tried to follow a trail of Fisher prints. I felt clumsy, human . The Fisher navigated expertly, with grace. My presence was loud, unnerving, my shoes crushing saplings, squeaking atop rotted logs. I stayed on the path of the Fisher.
Deer, coyote, fox, beaver, muskrat, porcupine, rabbit joined the Fisher, and together these feet had worn a highway in the thicket. There was a deep borrow complete with fresh droppings, an entrance perhaps to extensive tunnels. There was a turkey feather in a Fisher’s hole. Countless tiny stumps had been gnawed into pencil tips by a beaver. A pile of pine shavings fresh from that day. My attention turned to the marsh, to his dam. Maybe he had hidden there, spooked by my arrival, maybe I could get close enough to see. I felt like a creature, like I might learn their secrets.
I sunk into the icy grasses along the shallows of the swamp. I balanced along grounded trees, grasping for sturdy holds. Standing on a bank, rushed, anxious, as though I was sure to see the beaver, I pondered the rushing water of a lively brook feeding the swamp. I confidently jumped, with a leg stretched out, and landed in the icy stream. As I climbed out, shocked, slow, I thought of how ridiculous I had been on this quest to befriend the wildlife. December air stung my wet skin.
Deer, coyote, fox, beaver, muskrat, porcupine, rabbit. I trudged away, they surely reappeared soon after. I am not the exception to their doubts. The creatures will always take cover in dens or holes, or flee with white tails waving. I am not the exception to their doubts, and I can never know them.